A Paralympic star jailed for punching a homophobic

first_imgA Paralympic star jailed for punching a homophobic thug who was threatening him and his gay friends has spoken of his prison nightmare, and how he has been handed a fresh start and a possible return to international competition.George Fletcher spent four months in prison, but he and the friends who were with him insist he was merely protecting them all from a “horrible and aggressive” stranger who had targeted them on a night out in Liverpool’s gay quarter.He has spoken exclusively to Disability News Service about his time in prison, his anger with the criminal justice system that almost ruined his life, and his determination to play international football again.And the Great Britain cerebral palsy seven-a-side star – who represented Britain at the London 2012 Paralympics and has also represented England – has pledged that the injustice he suffered will not prevent him returning to his previous work with vulnerable people, and launching a new business.Fletcher (pictured playing for England) was released with a tag on 1 February, four months after being jailed at Liverpool Crown Court for grievous bodily harm.Even though the judge had told the man Fletcher punched that he had been “the author of his own misfortune”, the Paralympian was still jailed for 15 months.The incident happened in the early hours of 1 September 2014 on the edge of Liverpool’s gay quarter, an area notorious for homophobic incidents and assaults, and just a couple of streets away from where trainee police officer James Parkes was beaten and left in a coma after another homophobic attack in 2009.It had begun in a takeaway, with Fletcher and three friends peacefully eating their food inside when a stranger approached and began shouting “vile and horrible” homophobic abuse at them.He left the takeaway, but the four friends bumped into him again minutes later as they tried to find a taxi, and he again began screaming homophobic abuse at them.Fletcher says CCTV footage shows the man aggressively approaching him and his friends, and how he twice had to push the man away when he tried to grab his friends.The stranger then began bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet, with his arms wide open, shouting: ‘Let’s have it!’“When he got too close to me I threw a punch,” Fletcher says. “The law says that if you feel like you are in danger or feel threatened you are allowed a pre-emptive strike, so what did I have to do to prove that to the jury? I felt like I was in danger.”Unfortunately, the man, who was six feet four, fell backwards after Fletcher struck him a second time, and struck his head on the pavement. He was left seriously injured, needed emergency surgery, and was reportedly left with brain damage.Fletcher believes he was right to defend himself and his friends, although he regrets the injuries he caused. But he is still angry that he was convicted.He says the jury told the judge – after hours of deliberation – that they were unable to reach a verdict, but came back minutes later with a guilty verdict after they were warned that the courts were about to close for the day.And he says that listening to the Crown Prosecution Service claiming he had set out to take his revenge for the homophobic abuse his friends were subjected to had made him feel “disgusting”.  “I don’t believe in the criminal justice system anymore,” Fletcher says. “I thought my life was over, that my football career was over, and my work with vulnerable people, which I have always cherished.“It was all gone, everything was taken from underneath me, and it completely destroyed me.”When he arrived at Brinsford Prison, a young offenders’ institution near Wolverhampton, he knew it would be tough, particularly when he realised he was the only Scouser in the prison. He was tested almost immediately.“I was jumped by quite a big group of lads,” he says. “You have a choice: you either fight back and take a bigger beating or you let them do what they want to do but know they are going to come back and do it again later.“My decision was to fight back, which I didn’t want to do because the reason I ended up in there was because of throwing a punch.“But it’s a completely different world. There are no rules. You have to put a face on, you have to pretend to be someone else, you have to stick up for yourself, otherwise they will just pick you off.”It was his experience as an athlete that saved him from the repeated beatings he endured during the first month in prison.Eventually, the other prisoners noticed the incredibly tough and professional gym sessions he was putting himself through, and started asking him for help with their own training regimes and for advice on what they should eat.This “strange bond” he developed with them meant that life inside became easier, and he even developed friendships and has kept in touch with many of his fellow inmates.He says he now understands the aggressive behaviour he was confronted with when he arrived at the prison. “This is all these lads know. They have been in for three or four years. They don’t know any different.“Some of these lads have just made a mistake once in their life and have been punished for it.“When you get to know them they are genuine, easy-going lads, but they just know nothing but jail.“When they open up, they are no different to you or me. All we thought about was what were we going to do when we got out to make our lives different.”Fletcher says that the only rough treatment he received because of his impairment was being asked him why he “walked funny”; he told them he had a sore leg.“No-one ever used it against me. They would have a laugh, but no-one saw my disability as a target.”While he was inside, his fellow inmates didn’t know he was a Paralympian, because he didn’t tell them. “I was there to do time,” he says, “not to brag about stuff I had done in the past.”When he was released after four months, he says, it felt unreal. “The feeling coming out of the gates was the best feeling of my life. I realised how thankful you are for your freedom and how precious it is.“Even though I was only in there for a short time it made me realise how important family was and how important freedom was, and all the good things that have happened to me in my life, like my football career.”As he walked through the prison gates, he already knew that his friends and colleagues had not turned their backs on him.Jeff Davis, the FA’s national football development manager, who had first discovered him on a scouting trip when he was just 15, had written to him in prison, and even tried unsuccessfully to visit him.Davis rang Fletcher two days after he was released to tell him that he still had a future in the England squad.“That was a stepping stone for me,” he says, “to think my life might not be over, that people who really know me are going to give me a second chance in life.”He has also been offered his old part-time job back by the YMCA in Birkenhead, where he is a lifestyles officer, responsible for running programmes like football, cycling, and “chair fitness”, for those who can only do their workouts sitting down.He says the chief executive of the YMCA told him: “We don’t think you are the person that they made you out to be in court.“We want you back working with the people we know you can inspire to greater things.”Fletcher says: “It’s like I’m being given another chance by people who actually know who I am, and don’t just see the tag.”As well as working with YMCA, he is also about to launch his own business, G Force Fitness, as a fitness consultant.He came up with the idea in prison, and plans to offer training to anyone, but particularly hopes to work with vulnerable and disabled people.Now he says he can’t wait to set foot again in the FA’s national training centre, St George’s Park, although it is likely that he will have to wait until at least next year to play for England again, as he is not allowed to leave the country until 2017.“I can’t wait to set foot there again and put my boots on and surround myself with England players,” he says.“The England atmosphere and the English football coaches and the way we are treated as athletes… I just cannot wait.“One day I will put that England shirt on again, I will represent England again. That’s when I will feel like I have closure.”last_img read more

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SAINTS are pleased to announce new sponsorship dea

first_imgSAINTS are pleased to announce new sponsorship deals for Club Captain Jon Wilkin, hard running second rower Atelea Vea and fellow pack teammate Luke Thompson.Jon Wilkin will continue to be sponsored by kit partner Roofing Consultants Limited.With many years of roof refurbishment knowledge, RCL have become leading experts in the refurbishment of all types of commercial and Industrial roof coverings – and provide outstanding customer service no matter what the size of the roof covering.As one of the UK’s specialist roofing refurbishment contractors, RCL are accredited by major manufacturers to apply their products to Commercial and Industrial Roofs and provide single point guarantees of up to 25 years.To find out more about RCL visit their website at www.roofingconsultantsgroup.com or call 0800 046 1500.Mark Thompson Transport will proudly be sponsoring Luke Thompson again for 2016 alongside fellow big hitter Atelea Vea.Mark Thompson Transport is a friendly and professional family run business, specialising in nationwide road haulage, transport, logistics and supply chain.Based in Warrington, but with additional bases in Glasgow, Preston, Bury, Bootle, Shrewsbury, Tamworth and Doncaster, they provide a flexible and reliable service – with clients of all sizes trusting them to deliver on time and on budget, without exception.To learn more about Mark Thompson Transport, visit their website at www.markthompsontransport.co.uk or call their office on 01925 266 595.last_img read more

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KEIRON Cunningham bemoaned his sides start as the

first_imgKEIRON Cunningham bemoaned his side’s start as they went down at Salford last night.“We had a horrible start to the game; it was a mentality thing and didn’t approach it with the right mindset,” he said. “The way we prepared them was right, the game plan was right too but it’s all about that start. Rugby league is about energy battles and if you do not win that then you dig yourself a bit of a hole.“There’s no excuses and I don’t want to take the polish off Salford. They played the perfect game which is credit to them and their coaches. They did a superb job.“We didn’t have a focus on next week’s game. We looked at last week’s game, did what we needed to and prepared for this one. But there was a complacency about the place before the game and I was worried about that. But once you’re across the line it is too late.”He continued: “Morgan Knowles was a shining light though – I thought his stint in the middle was superb and Alex (Walmsley) is a leader for this club. It is disappointing that a lot more of that leadership group, the ones that talk before games, didn’t put their hands up and go with him.“We will respond next week for sure. It’s disappointing as I thought we had some consistency in the place. We will respond next week and afterwards I’m sure but we need that consistency throughout the year. That is what we strive for as players and coaches.“Nothing can be said though that will make me or the players feel any worse than we do now. They didn’t go out there on purpose to lose the game. Preparation is key for everything.“We will respond.”James Roby is unlikely to play next Friday as the medical staff want to make sure he is 100 per cent before he returns to the field.Mark Percival will have a scan on a damaged knee early next week.Saints will be seeking that response next week when they host Sydney Roosters in the World Club Series on Friday February 19.Tickets remain on sale from the Ticket Office, via 01744 455 052 or online here.last_img read more

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As well as the onfield sessions Saints are makin

first_imgAs well as the on-field sessions, Saints are making full use of the facilities at their Cowley International College training complex.The off-season covers everything from fitness and team drills to fundamental core skills which you can see below.Back after his World Cup with Samoa, Assistant Coach Sean Long put the lads through their paces – and here he takes us through one of his sessions.The boys are working hard for the new campaign – and Memberships for the 2018 Betfred Super League campaign are on sale now.And as well as guaranteeing your ‘spec’ for the new season you’ll receive a whole host of other benefits AND be entered into our Ultimate Fan draw.Be #saintsandproud – click here to find out more.last_img read more

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They won 1710 that season but have only secured

first_imgThey won 17-10 that season, but have only secured nine wins in 21 matches against Hull FC on the road since Super League began.Justin Holbrook’s men head into the game in good form having beaten Hull FC twice this year already and are on a run of 11 matches without defeat.2018 Meetings:St Helens 25 Hull FC 22 (CCQF, 3/6/18) St Helens 26 Hull FC 12 (SLR10, 6/4/18)Super League Summary:Hull FC won 17 St Helens won 30 (includes win in 2006 Grand Final & wins in 2001 and 2006 play-offs) 3 drawsHighs and Lows:Hull FC highest score: 44-6 (H, 2005) (also widest margin) St Helens highest score: 74-16 (H, 1999) (also widest margin)Super League Head to Head:SaintsHull FC Tries116 (1st)80 (5th)Goals92 (1st)82 (2nd)Metres28,247 (1st)24,673 (6th)Breaks160 (1st)123 (5th)Tackles6,555 (8th)6,672 (5th)Penalties145 (11th)130 (12th)Factoids:Danny Richardson has the longest scoring SL streak in the game, having registered points in our last 22 matches.His run began with seven goals in the 46-6 home win against Castleford on February 2.Mark Percival has scored 66 points in 10 career matches against Hull FC, whilst James Roby has played the Airlie Birds 36 times.Elsewhere, Kyle Amor and Theo Fages have never scored against Hull FC.19-Man Squads:Saints: 1. Jonny Lomax, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Adam Swift, 6. Theo Fages, 9. James Roby, 10. Kyle Amor, 11. Zeb Taia, 12. Jon Wilkin, 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 15. Morgan Knowles, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Dom Peyroux, 18. Danny Richardson, 19. Regan Grace, 20. Matty Lees, 23. Ben Barba.Hull: 2. Bureta Faraimo, 3. Carlos Tuimavave, 6. Albert Kelly, 8. Scott Taylor, 9. Danny Houghton, 11. Dean Hadley, 12. Mark Minichiello, 14. Jake Connor, 15. Chris Green, 16. Jordan Abdul, 17. Danny Washbrook, 23. Mickey Paea, 24. Jack Logan, 25. Jansin Turgut, 26. Jordan Lane, 27. Jack Downs, 28. Hakim Miloudi, 29. Masimbaashe Matongo, 30. Cameron Scott.Betfred Super League Leading Scorers:Tries: 1 Ben Barba (St Helens) 20 2 Mark Percival (St Helens) 17 3 = Tom Johnstone (Wakefield Trinity), Liam Marshall (Wigan Warriors) 15 5 = Bureta Faraimo (Hull FC), Ben Jones-Bishop (Wakefield Trinity) 13 7 Fetuli Talanoa (Hull FC) 12 8 = Jy Hitchcox (Castleford Tigers), Ryan Shaw (Hull Kingston Rovers), Regan Grace (St Helens), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Ryan Morgan (St Helens), Josh Charnley (Warrington Wolves), Tom Lineham (Warrington Wolves) 11Goals: 1 Danny Richardson (St Helens) 92 2 Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors) 70 3 Ryan Shaw (Hull Kingston Rovers) 56 4 Marc Sneyd (Hull FC) 47 5 Liam Finn (Wakefield Trinity) 39 6 Jamie Ellis (Castleford Tigers) 36 7 = Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants), Jake Connor (Hull FC) 35 9 Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos) 34 10 = Josh Drinkwater (Catalans Dragons), Tom Gilmore (Widnes Vikings) 33Goals Percentage: 1 Jake Connor (Hull FC) 92.10 (35/38) 2 Ryan Shaw (Hull Kingston Rovers) 86.15 (56/65) 3 Luke Gale (Castleford Tigers) 86.11 (31/36) 4 Danny Brough (Huddersfield Giants) 85.36 (35/41) 5 Ryan Hampshire (Wakefield Trinity) 85.00 (17/20) 6 = Tom Gilmore (Widnes Vikings) 84.61 (33/39) Danny Tickle (Hull Kingston Rovers) 84.61 (11/13) 8 Krisnan Inu (Widnes Vikings) 82.35 (14/17) 9 James Batchelor (Wakefield Trinity) 81.25 (13/16) 10 Lucas Albert (Catalans Dragons) 80.00 (12/15)Points: 1 Danny Richardson (St Helens) 203 2 Sam Tomkins (Wigan Warriors) 169 3 Ryan Shaw (Hull Kingston Rovers) 156 4 Marc Sneyd (Hull FC) 102 5 = Jake Connor (Hull FC), Kallum Watkins (Leeds Rhinos) 96 7 Josh Drinkwater (Catalans Dragons) 90 8 Liam Finn (Wakefield Trinity) 86 9 = Robert Lui (Salford Red Devils), Stefan Ratchford (Warrington Wolves) 82Table:POSTeamPWLDPFPADIFFPTS1Saints201820651262389362Wigan Warriors201550530291239303Castleford Tigers20136147341855274Warrington Wolves201360463354109265Hull FC20119049041872226Wakefield Trinity20911046143625187Catalans Dragons209110402474-72188Huddersfield Giants208111335571-236179Leeds Rhinos207121365469-1041510Hull KR206131410508-981311Salford Red Devils206140330507-1771212Widnes Vikings203170339541-2026Tickets:Tickets for Friday’s trip to Hull FC (7:45pm) remain on sale from the Ticket Office at the Totally Wicked Stadium or by calling 01744 455 052. The go offsale at noon Friday.last_img read more

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